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The Voice Is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac

por Joyce Johnson

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774274,899 (4.11)5
A profile of the iconic author's early years offers insight into his efforts to bridge his dual cultural heritage while exploring how his French Canadian background enriched his prose.
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The Voice is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac by Joyce Johnson is a comprehensive biography of Jack Kerouac. Johnson's articles have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, New York, The Washington Post, and Vanity Fair. Johnson for a time was Kerouac's girlfriend and a member of the inner circle of the beat movement.

I like Kerouac's work. I really do, but I didn't always. Many years ago I found myself at Big Sur and felt compelled to run to the closest bookstore and buy a copy of Big Sur. It didn't take long for me to put the book down. A few years ago a friend at work, knowing I read often, asked me if I read any Kerouac. I said I tried but couldn't get into it. He said he had the same problem until he heard Kerouac read. The secret, he said, is to read it in “beat.” I gave it a try and it made a world of difference. Since then I have read all Kerouac's major works, and he has a spot on my bookshelf.

Once I was fully into Kerouac's work, I dabbled into Ginsberg and Burroughs. The same friend that told me to read in beat brought me a copy of Minor Characters to read. It was also written by Johnson. When I was asked how I liked it I replied honestly. I didn't like it it seemed too much like someone who felt cheated in history, despite her association. To be fair, I decided to give her another try with “The Voice is All.”

To her credit, Johnson writes an extremely detailed biography. Having access to the Berg Collection in New York Public Library, Johnson had a wealth of knowledge not usually available to the public. Kerouac's childhood is covered in great detail especially his French-Canadian background. All the major players are covered as well as their histories. Even Ginsberg setting Kerouac and Johnson up on a blind date has its part. There is a tremendous amount of information in this book and all of it very detailed. That may be part of the problem I have with the book. Kerouac reveals a great detail about his life in his books. Johnson does not contradict Kerouac, but just goes much deeper into details. There is a point where a book begins to cross the line from being informative to becoming a scholarly dissertation or thesis. Biographies generally keep the reader interested with the subjects life, adventures, or accomplishments. Scholarly work presents detailed information that generally doesn't hold everyone's interest, most that I have read and written would only hold the interest of a few. Generally it has a much smaller audience, but much greater detail. Johnson seems to be on this path; rich in detail, but dry to the average reader. I found her style to be informative but not compelling to read though cover to cover.

A casual fan of Kerouac's work may find The Voice is All intimidating or a bit more than they expected. To the person needing or wanting to know every detail of the man's life, this book may be for you. I will keep it as a reference. There is some really great information contained in the pages of The Voice is All, but I doubt I will read it cover to cover again. A great deal of credit is given to Johnson for compiling such a tome. What it lacks in captivating reading it makes up for in information ( )
  evil_cyclist | Mar 16, 2020 |
most moving biography I have read of Kerouac- poetic, accurate, truthful. ( )
  beanbrarian | Apr 19, 2019 |
Johnson is the first biographer of Jack Kerouac to delve into his inner conflict of being Franco-Canadian and American. She writes about how this conflict, and the feeling of always not quite fitting in, made an impact on his writing and his style. Told with love and compassion for a cast of characters who must have been hard to love, especially Jack at times, the influence of the Beat Generation on literature and society, comes through. This is a well-written, heavily researched book worthy of repeat readings. ( )
  AuntieClio | Mar 23, 2015 |
Impressive, enthralling – and probably Kerouac’s last wish.

Just the compilation of this book is astounding. Hunting through all his letters, ceaseless journals, half written manuscripts, and the personal accounts and books of his friends and lovers – is a monumental task. The author Joyce Johnson related in a book reading in Brooklyn that this book took her 4 years to write. Each bit of information was cataloged with copious notes. The painstaking research is so dedicated it seems to be a testament of love.

Johnson succeeds in describing Kerouac’s life. She shows both, how he is seen by others and how he sees himself. Combining these with his published books and history, a picture of Kerouac comes together in a book which he would never have been able to write himself. It’s absolutely gripping to watch the intensity in which Kerouac lives in his journals. The dark raging inner struggles and his need to live every second of his life to the fullest, sheds light on what it means to be in the beat generation.

I can only help feel like what Kerouac had been trying to describe his whole life in his books can only accurately and fully be described by Johnson in his biography. Johnson shows Kerouac’s life and the way he lived, dedicated to dreams and passion, was his real accomplishment. ( )
  michelle.mount | Jan 30, 2013 |
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A profile of the iconic author's early years offers insight into his efforts to bridge his dual cultural heritage while exploring how his French Canadian background enriched his prose.

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